PHIL 437A:  Study Questions for Week #8 (Nov. 17-19):

Practical Reason

 

 

1.  What is the will?

 

2.  What does Hume mean by necessity of the will?  Note that Hume gives two definitions.  Explain why it does not matter to him which one we use.

 

3.  Why does Hume believe that the will is under the same sort of necessity as external objects?

 

4.  How does Hume reply to the claim that “Human conduct is irregular and uncertain.  How does the example of mad-men support Hume’s position?

 

5.  What does Hume mean by “Liberty and chance are synonimous.”(T 2.3.2.8) Would his opponents accept this definition of liberty?  How would an opponent reply to Hume’s argument against freedom of the will?

 

6.  Explain the distinction between the liberty of spontaneity and the liberty of indifference.  Which does Hume think we are capable of?  Which does he not think we are capable of?

 

7.  “We feel that our actions are subject to our will on most occasions, and imagine we feel that the will itself is subject to nothing; because when by a denial of it we are provok’d to try, we feel that it moves easily every way, and produces an image of itself even on that side, on which it did not settle.”  Explain the role of this quotation in Hume’s argument against freedom of the will.

 

8.  Why does Hume think necessity of the will is essential to religion and morality?

 

9.  Punishment.  “Tis only upon the principles of necessity, that a person acquires any merit or demerit from his actions, however the common opinion may incline to the contrary.”(T 2.3.2.6)  Explain Hume’s argument.  How would an opponent reply?  Critically evaluate both sides.

 

11.  Repentance.  “[R]epentance wipes off every crime, especially if attended with an evident reformation of life and manners.”  Is this true?  Does repentance make a difference to how much punishment is deserved?  Why or why not?

 

12.  Reason and the Passions.  According to Hume, what is reason capable of?   Why can reason alone never be a motive to any action or oppose any passion in the direction of the will?

 

13.  "Since reason alone can never produce any action, or give rise to volition, I infer, that the same faculty is as incapable of preventing volition, or of disputing the preference with any passion or emotion."(T 2.3.3.4)  Is this a correct inference?  Couldn't reason judge that certain desires are irrational and thereby eliminate them?  Critically evaluate Hume's position.

 

14.  "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them."(T 2.3.3.4)  Explain. Is this true?  Consider both sides.

 

15.  According to Hume, what are the only two senses in which a passion can be called unreasonable?  Do you agree?  Are there any others?

 

16.  "'Tis as little contrary to reason to prefer even my own acknowledg'd lesser good to my greater, and have a more ardent affection for the former than the latter." (T 2.3.3.6)  Is this true?  What if I sometimes have urges to throw myself from high places, even though I am not suicidal?  If I get such an urge one day and jump, as I fall to my death in the canyon below can my reason judge that my urge to jump was irrational?  Consider both sides. 

 

17.  Hume claims that "t'is impossible, that reason and passion can ever oppose each other."  But then he goes on to consider cases in which "our passions yield to our reason without any opposition."(T 2.3.3.7)  Explain how the two claims can be made consistent. 

Hume seems to be denying that it is possible to feel fear when you know that there is nothing dangerous in your environment.  What about the fear one feels in watching a horror movie?  What about the fear that some people have of snakes, which can be triggered by garter snakes, even if they know that garter snakes are harmless?  In the latter case, doesn't reason judge the passion to be irrational?  Consider both sides. 

 

18.  Anti-Humeanism About Practical Reason.  Consider the anti-Humean position that no passion or desire qualifies as a reason for action unless it is endorsed by reason.  Clearly, this position claims that reason is capable of more than Hume thinks.  Critically evaluate both sides.

 

19.  What does Hume mean by "what is vulgarly call'd his reason"(T 2.3.4.1)?

 

21.  What does Hume mean by a "calm passion"?  What are some examples?  Which ones are sometimes confused with reason?  Why?

 

22.  Hume says, "The more general and universal any of our ideas are, the less influence they have upon the imagination."  Why does Hume think that the example of Themistocles and Aristides illustrates his position?  Does it?  Consider both sides.